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Pedro Martinez's return adds to his history as New York Yankees foe

NEW YORK — The old place is dark now. An empty and lifeless testament to the past.

There was little the Yankees took with them when they came across the street to a magnificent new ballpark this year. Just a few keepsakes, a handful of memories and, evidently, the same collection of ghosts that have haunted Pedro Martinez for what seems like eternity.

They were at it again in Game 2 of the World Series Thursday night. Martinez has trimmed his hair, changed uniforms and reinvented himself as an off-speed pitcher, but there is no disguising his fate in any place called Yankee Stadium.

Martinez pitched about as well as a 38-year-old man with an 89 mph fastball can, but it still was not enough Thursday night. He lost his 1-0 lead in the fourth on a home run by Mark Teixeira and lost the tie a couple of innings later on a home run by Hideki Matsui.

By the time he was removed in the middle of the seventh inning, Martinez seemed resigned to his fate. With a crowd of more than 50,000 shouting their disapproval, he walked slowly toward the third-base dugout. Just before stepping inside, he paused with a huge grin and looked into the stands as if he had nothing to do with what had just taken place.

It is a fascinating, and mystifying, relationship Martinez has cultivated with the Yankees and their fans through the years.

The Yankees are not simply an opponent to Martinez; they are an enemy of long standing. You might be tempted to argue that they are all that stands between Pedro and utter domination of baseball's collective major leagues.

Consider Martinez has a career winning percentage of .700 against every other team. Against the Yankees, he is .500. Consider he came into Thursday night with a 5-0 record and 2.08 ERA in the postseason against every other team. Against the Yankees, he is 1-3 with a 4.69.

The Yankees have haunted Martinez through the years. The beaning of Gary Sheffield. The confrontation with Don Zimmer. The boast to wake up the Bambino so Pedro could drill him in the butt. The meltdown in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS that cost Boston manager Grady Little his job. The rough loss in September 2004 that led Martinez to infamously refer to the Yankees as his daddy.

And then his one-man Broadway show of a news conference before the Series opener Wednesday.

"Because of you guys, in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium," Martinez said. "I can honestly say that.

"I think in every aspect, the way you guys have used me and abused me since I've been coming … just because I wore a red uniform while playing for Boston. I remember quotes in the paper: Here comes the man that New York loves to hate. Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about."

That Martinez even made it back to Yankee Stadium to start a World Series game is a story almost too unlikely to consider. Barely three months ago, he was a man without a team. Some might have said a man without any time left in his career.

The injuries that had long been anticipated for a pitcher of such slight stature had arrived. Martinez's shoulder had worsened over the years to the point that he drew little interest from big-league teams after pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

Philadelphia did not seek him out as much as send out a distress signal. Brett Myers was hurt, and Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer were struggling. Philadelphia had not yet acquired Cliff Lee from Cleveland, and general manager Ruben Amaro was fretting about the coming months.

That's when former Rays executive Scott Proefrock, now a Phillies assistant GM, threw Martinez's name out. After scouts watched him throw, the Phillies signed Martinez in July and he began his comeback in Clearwater in July.

"We had put ourselves in a position where we really needed to shore up our rotation," Amaro said. "Scott Proefrock and I were sitting in his office one day and Scott said, 'What's Pedro doing? Is he still out there?' Things kind of snowballed from there. We had him work out, he was very interested in becoming a Phillie."

Martinez was better than anyone could have expected down the stretch. He was 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA and the Phillies won eight of his nine starts. As it turns out, it was all a precursor to another start against an opponent he has faced more than any other in an 18-year major-league career.

And after all this time, it seems little has changed.

Pedro Martinez's return adds to his history as New York Yankees foe 10/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 31, 2009 5:57pm]
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